Amelie Baron, Agence France-Presse, November 28, 2021
As the rising power of criminal gangs plunges Haiti deeper into chaos, health care workers are getting overwhelmed by the number of women being raped by these violent groups, and by the sheer horror of the victims’ ordeals.
“Some of the kidnapped women don’t even know how many men raped them,” said Doctor Judith Fadois, who has worked for the past six years at a Doctors Without Borders (MSF) clinic in Port-au-Prince for victims of sexual violence.
“In some cases, I would speak of mutilation, they were treated like objects so much,” the doctor said of the awful things she has seen and heard at the clinic in recent months.
There is already a taboo surrounding sex crimes in this society widely seen as chauvinist, and that makes it hard enough to talk about rape. But the heightened cruelty of Haitian gangs has stunned some of the medical teams beyond words.
In the past two months, as gangs virtually took control of the capital in the wake of the president’s assassination and a years-long social and economic crisis, the staff at the clinic have heard things that the doctor says she “never thought a human being could do to another human being.”
Hearing the endless tales of “pure torture” that the victims recount when they come to the clinic has also taken its toll on the health care workers who provide assistance to the women, Fadois said.
The clinic is also moving to combat certain customs that hinder the fight against sexual violence.
“In the provinces especially, the tradition is that either we force the girl to marry her attacker, or the family of the victim is financially compensated,” said Fadois.
In six years, she can draw satisfaction from a slow but steady change in attitudes towards rape. On the other hand, the recent rise of gangs in Port-au-Prince is jeopardizing the assistance offered to victims.
“Some say they can’t even leave the place where they are because of the insecurity there: it’s like they’re in prison,” the doctor said helplessly.